Prop up public education

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Prop up public education

The government has finally decided to directly regulate the operation of private education institutes, or hagwon, with the aim of easing household spending on private education. Four government units - the Education Ministry, Fair Trade Commission, National Tax Office and National Police Agency - started cracking down on illegal hagwon management starting yesterday. The administration has even pledged to pay financial rewards to each of those who report hagwon that hold classes after 10 p.m. or charge exorbitant tuition fees.

So far, the government’s crackdown on hagwon has been full of nominal threats. The biggest reason: a shortage of workers involved in crackdown activities. However, it is hard to understand the government’s decision to enact the extreme measure of paying those who report illegal operations.

Since the government will give a financial reward only after it has evidence that can prove the hagwon has violated the law, successful reports by ordinary citizens will be tough to come by. That means the reports mostly will be made by students and parents.

But it raises the question of whether they would actually report on the hagwon they use. It also makes one wonder if it is the right thing to do from an educational perspective.

A few days ago, education authorities said they will give cash rewards of up to 30 million won ($23,550) to those who report teachers that take cash bribes from students.

We now fear that the government will think this type of “reporting” by average citizens is the answer to every educational problem.

Restricting the hours of hagwon operations won’t necessarily work when the demand for private education is so high. It actually will boost demand for private tutoring and hagwon at other times, such as at dawn and on weekends. It is also hard to ignore the reality that students are seeking private education because they are not content with public education.

As a result of these moves, a parent recently filed a constitutional petition claiming that restricting hagwon operating hours infringes the citizens’ right to education.

Easing private education fever by clamping down on hagwon will have limited effects. A fundamental solution would be strengthening public education and thus reducing the demand for private education. Given that it will take time for public schools to become more competitive, the government may need to introduce measures that would offer up a replacement for hagwon. One example is the decision by the Education Ministry this year to designate 457 schools as “schools without private education.” More measures like that could help the situation.

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